How A.I's Feud with David Stern and the Nba would go on to change the economic landscape for the modern superstar
“My whole thing was, just being me. Now, you look around the NBA and all of them have tattoos, guys wearing cornrows. Now you see the police officers with the cornrows. I took a beating for those types of things.”
It’s a hot day in September, New York’s frenetic energy is juiced by the comings and goings of New York Fashion Week. The premier battle grounds for everyone from Marc Jacobs to Hood by Air showcasing a new line partnered with Pornhub.com, which featured models walking with artificial cum on their faces? Russell Westbrook sits front row at Jeremy Scott’s show. Scott’s shows have become a staple of NYFW in the last decade. Decked out in a torn denim jacket, matching denim and t-shirt all by flavor of the moment, Los Angeles’ Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear Of God Line. And of course the outfit is completed with a pair of St. Laurent sneakers. All week Westbrook has been barraging social media with photos of his outfits the good the bad and the ugly… all with #fashionguy as the hashtag.
What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing. This is simply the way it is now. Westbrook has done a line of eye wear for Barney’s, creative directed a season for True Religion (I’m not sure how that turned out) and is coming out with a line of casual sneakers. Tyson Chandler hangs with Rick Owens, wears capes and dreams of designing a women’s shoe line. Amare Stoudemire talks brim specs with couture hat maker Nick Fouquet while becoming the go to high-end art curator for fellow NBA players. Iman Shumpert and wife Teyana Taylor (who just set the world on fire with her Flashdance take in Kanye’s new video Fade) wear matching Baja East head to toe, both showing off the mid drift and yes Iman is a man casually showing off his mid drift in the name of fashion. It’s 2016, fashion and the NBA have become synonymous. Watch an All Star Game, courtside at a dunk contest has turned into a showcase for which player can push the envelope of style and fashion over the guy jumping high and putting the ball into the hoop, remember Dwayne Wade’s glasses and bow tie? There was a point when fur coats and gator skin shoes represented style in the NBA, every once in a while an ill fitting three piece suit. Those days are long gone though; I doubt anyone would believe that a decade long adversarial struggle between a frumpy Jewish lawyer from Manhattan, and a punk kid out of Hampton Virginia started all this.
Talk to anyone, sports writer, die hard fan: 10 greatest players!! The top 10 are always the same just in a different order
Lebron might be a point of contention at the number three spot, but that’s another argument for another day. After that in no specific order
- Dr. Julius Erving
- Tim Duncan
It’s in stone at this point; the only alterations accrue through time. Allen Iverson is never mentioned as one of the greatest, but if you argue ‘pound for pound’ almost any critic will relent and agree, Iverson is the greatest “pound for pound” player that the NBA has ever seen. 26.7 points, 6.6 assists, 2.2 steals. These numbers are marred by the last five years of a career with injuries and trades. Realistically Iverson was a 30 point per game guy. Yes, advanced analytics have not been kind to Iverson’s numbers, he took a lot of shots and….. he took a lot of shots. The most impressive thing about Iverson was that he was the perennial “I like that guy” champion from just about anyone that didn’t know basketball but saw Iverson play. That last point is what makes him so special, specifically to the NBA, and to the NBA’s bank account. He brought people to the game that had never seen or cared for it because something like Allen Iverson had never existed before, he was a brand, a walking, talking brand.
Iverson took the league by storm in 1996, a wide eyed blur of a guard out of Georgetown, Iverson famously let the league know he was for real when he crossed Michael Jordan over while dropping 37 pts on the defending champ his rookie season. From then on it wasn’t a matter of how it was a matter of when. Iverson continued to electrify the league with his score at all costs ability, underdog status, his toughness and personal pride at its highest magnitude…But what pushed the limit was AI’s style both internal and external.
“We’re talking about practice, man. [laughter from the media crowd]We’re talking about practice. We’re talking about practice. We ain’t talking about the game. [more laughter] We’re talking about practice, man. When you come to the arena, and you see me play, you see me play don’t you? You’ve seen me give everything I’ve got, right? But we’re talking about practice right now. We talking about practice”
-Allen Iverson at the Infamous “Practice” press conference
Iverson continued his one man campaign to torch the league, his detractors and pretty much anything else that got in his way. His best season was averaging over 30 points and leading a very average 76ers team to the finals only to lose to the Shaq/Kobe era Lakers.
Iverson didn’t seem to care that they lost, always the chip on his lean shoulder. Iverson had defied odds; he was the poster boy for Reebok. The Question and The Question low, to this day, remain an iconic shoe to both sneaker heads and players alike. Looking back on it, Iverson on Reebok made sense; it fit his attitude. He was the best, he knew it and he refused to be anything less than be the showcase athlete for a brand (but can you imagine what Iverson and Nike could have accomplished together?). What made Iverson so intoxicating as a public figure also ham strung his relationship with coaches, front office staff and most importantly that frumpy Jewish lawyer from Manhattan, NBA league commissioner David Stern, arguably the most powerful commissioner in all of sports .
Iverson’s popularity continued to grow into the early 2000’s; he showed up to press conferences with a skull cap under his flat brimmed baseball hats, baggy jeans, chains, Timberland boots and those tattoos…. Oh, those tattoos. But the external wasn’t the definition, Iverson looked at the rules of the “game” questioning their validity, and no one could see this but him at that moment. There’s some beautiful irony in the fact that the tragedy of this story is also the same thing that we’re praising. Iverson was tearing through the fabric of perception and in doing so changing everything. Unfortunately for him, he was the one left holding the bag, he just couldn’t see it yet.
By 2005 Stern had enough, it was perceived that Iverson thought he was bigger than the league and his style had permeated the ranks of the NBA, every player dressed like him, every rapper dressed like him, white kids in upper middle-class neighborhoods dressed like him. So Stern implemented a business casual dress code while attending games. Players were no longer to wear baggy denim, t-shirts or chains. Stern did this under the guise of cleaning up the perception of the NBA, wanting his league and players distanced from any type of look that could be perceived gang related. But Stern was attempting to put a leash on Iverson.
Whatever, Iverson continued to be himself, yeah he had to wear a tie, show up without the chains but that wasn’t the point. The point that someone like David Stern would never get. You can take away the gangster rap persona, the zig-zagged cornrows, even the tattoos, Iverson was his style, Iverson was Iverson, he was real authenticity. For example, he played in an era where you could put a guy on the ground for going hard to the hoop. In 2001 Iverson developed extreme elbow bursitis (probably from hitting the wood so often and hard) that would later require surgery. Guys like Shaq had famously joked about putting Iverson down so hard that they would get tired because he would just get back up. He had the team trainer cut a swath of compression bandage for his arm in hopes that it would help him play through the pain. It was a medical necessity that would turn into an accessory. The look became so popular that there now exists a 4 billion dollar company, Under Armour, that at its core, is exactly what Iverson riffed out of necessity 15 years prior.
Over a decade later fashion is dominated by oversized silhouettes, largely attributed to couture designer Rick Owens. Kanye West has dropped a cultural monopoly between his music and his wildly popular Yeezy line. Jerry Lorenzo, a friend of West and considered part of his creative team has nailed a look: oversized t’s, usually vintage Metallica shirts, re purposed with his Fear of God logo offset. Last year even Bieber jumped on the train having Lorenzo design his tour merch. It’s changed streetwear. Lebron James, owns his own management company that represents other active players, Nick Young a mediocre player at best, has a career built on bad shots, skinny jeans, and Versace button ups.
“[P]eople look to what I’m doing and say ‘Oh, that reminds me of Rick Owens,’ or ‘Oh, that’s Rick Owens.’ Well, I only like Rick Owens because I first loved Allen Iverson.”
-Jerry Lorenzo (Fear Of God)
The spectrum of whats possible for these athletes has grown global and far exceeded the stadiums they play in. All of this is possible because on one end you have a kid from Virginia that wanted to play the way he wanted to play and look the way he wanted to look. On the other David Stern, by some considered one of the better professional sports commissioners in the last 50 years, who waged war on a single player to edit him and in doing so he made the monster bigger. In their 2016 report, Forbes estimates the average NBA team value at 1.25 billion. Using the Knicks, considered the most valuable NBA Team, as the barometer, are currently valued at 3 billion while ten years earlier In 2006 the team was valued at 608 million. The growth is astronomical.
Last Saturday, a weary and emotional Allen Iverson walked up to the stage like a worn out gunfighter, the last of his kind, the only one to survive. Though he doesn’t look like he’s aged a day in his face, he carries it in his eyes. Everything from being tried as an adult at 17, for allegedly throwing a chair, accepting a 15-year prison sentence, going to jail, his life seemingly over. From being the #1 recruit in the nation in both basketball and football to looking at spending his youth in prison. Iverson would beat it eventually, getting a clemency grant from the state of Virginia and a second chance by John Thompson at Georgetown. To go into a league that was dominated by big men, Iverson plowed through them like someone with something to prove (he did). If you asked him I would guess that to this day Iverson feels mis understood, a victim of circumstance, being held accountable for things that do not align with basketball.
So Iverson, the fighter, the ball player, the father, the icon, accepted his induction into the hall of fame. He seemed relieved and happy that his kids could see this, a small validation that it was all worth it. After the smoke settles and the lights are off, one thing you will never see is Iverson being remorseful, remorseful for dominating basketball at 6’1, remorseful for wearing baggy pants or skull caps. He’s definitely not sorry about the cornrows, accepting the award with his signature haircut. No, Iverson is Iverson and no one can change that, not even a dress code.